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Ken Early on Steven Gerrard and the rest of the week’s best sportswriting

Also featuring Barcelona’s identity crisis under Luis Enrique and the baddest motherf***er on the planet.

Steven Gerrard announced he would leave Liverpool at the end of the season last Friday.
Steven Gerrard announced he would leave Liverpool at the end of the season last Friday.
Image: PA Wire/Press Association Images

1. Naturally (or because I have an ego), I clicked on the link. Which led to a post on Deadspin titled The Worst American Sportswriting Of 2014. Damn. This couldn’t be good.

I immediately found my name, and an entry referring to a blog post I wrote about disgraced Ravens running back Ray Rice. And (I swear to God this is true) I laughed. Not because the Ray Rice post was funny or the Deadspin piece was funny, but because Deadspin was 100-percent correct: I re-read my thoughts on Rice, and they were shit. Shittily constructed, shittily expressed. Just pure shit, and worthy of derision. Of course, they also appeared in a top-of-the-brain blog entry that probably took 15 minutes to write in between real work and eating a frozen burrito. But fair is fair, and if shit sucks (and this certainly sucked), I don’t mind being called out.

Jeff Pearlman gives an interesting response to being included in 2014’s worst sportswriting.

2. “Not a top, top player” might not sound like the most scathing verdict – it allows for being merely “top” – but make no mistake: Ferguson was saying that Gerrard was really nothing special, and coming from someone like Sir Alex, that hurts. Ferguson is above showing his workings; he leaves it to readers to work out why he doesn’t rate Gerrard among the elite. The clue is in that word bravado, with its connotation of pretence, of something feigned.

Not everyone shares Ferguson’s view. Gerrard’s former Liverpool teammate Craig Bellamy wrote in his autobiography: “What makes him so good? Well, there is nothing he can’t do. He is clever. He sees the game quicker than anyone else. He sees the picture. He can play the ball first time round corners that aren’t even there. He has got intelligence. He has got physical attributes. He can bomb past people. He is quick. He is a proper, powerful athlete. Give him a header, he will score. He can play in behind the front man. He can get the ball off the back four and control the game from the quarterback position. He is just an immense all-round footballer. I have never seen anyone put it all together like him, never seen someone with so many qualities. I have played with a lot of talented players, but he was better than any of them.”

For the week that’s in it, Ken Early’s piece on Steven Gerrard and THAT Alex Ferguson remark is well worth a read.

3. There’s something slightly startling now about looking back to November last year and remembering how good Andros Townsend was in England’s final two World Cup qualifiers.
 
When England needed wins at the end of the series, he was the man who stepped up: he scored a vital third goal in the 4-1 win over Montenegro, firing in from outside the box just after Dejan Damjanovic’s goal had threatened a comeback, and then he buzzed with menace and purpose as England beat Poland 2-0. Yet on Sunday, when Tottenham Hotspur named three academy products for their Premier League game against Manchester United, it was hard not to feel that Townsend was the third of the three, somehow less exciting than Harry Kane and Ryan Mason, that he was getting a game largely because it’s Christmas and other players are exhausted.

Jonathan Wilson provides an illuminating take on Tottenham’s flawed young winger Andros Townsend.

4. The baddest motherfucker on Earth and I are in a posh restaurant in a poor city with two guys he picked up at some point or another to shoot guns and drink beer with whenever he isn’t elbowing people in the face, and we’re laughing, the four of us, hearty guffaws that crash around the table. I’m telling them a funny story I heard during my week here in Albuquerque, about a fighter who was knocked out the first time he fought on pay-per-view, with all his friends and family watching at home. It starts with him sprinting across an eight-sided chain link fence, chin out, fists low, and ends with him coming to, his opponent crawling across the cool, gray mat like an alligator, and the ringside doctor shining a small flashlight in his eyes screaming, “Are you OK? Are you OK?”

“That sucks,” the baddest motherfucker on Earth says. “That’s no good.”

Deadspin’s explanation of ‘How Jon Jones Became The Baddest Motherfucker On Earth’ is a must-read for UFC fans.

5. The moment Barcelona’s players left the Camp Nou last Saturday, they were on holiday. Some of them departed the stadium after the 5-0 win against Córdoba and headed straight for El Prat airport. Their 4 p.m. kickoff, the earliest of the weekend’s games, suited them; the previous weekend’s result, a 0-0 draw at Getafe, did not.

Barcelona’s Europe-based players will return on Dec. 30, the Latin Americans on Dec. 31, and Leo Messi and Neymar on Jan. 2, just two days before facing Real Sociedad — on the grounds that they have the Copa América at the end of the season.

Writing on ESPN, Sid Lowe asks whether Barcelona are suffering from an identity crisis under Luis Enrique.

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